Tuesday, August 7, 2012

From the Model T to Spacecraft

As we prepare for the opening of Allen County Innovation in the next couple of months, we thought we’d use our blog to fill you in a little on some of the history behind this new exhibit. We’ll be featuring photos on our Facebook page as well so that you can see what goes into the behind-the-scenes work here at the History Center.

The exhibit will feature a number of companies who have brought to the world market innovative products and services. You may be surprised at some of these as well as their practicality. And as forerunners to the age in which we now live, the ingenuity behind these products has no equal.
So a couple of our first blog posts on Allen County Innovation will be on magnet wire.

Now I have to confess that to me, magnet wire in and of itself is not exciting—that is, until you realize that without it we would never have had space travel or pacemakers. As a person for whom the study of science has never been a strength, I can’t even begin to summarize for you how magnet wire is made. So here’s a quote from the actual exhibit:

“Magnet Wire Is All Around Us

George Jacobs
When wound into a coil and energized with electricity, insulated wire becomes an electromagnet thus earning the name “Magnet Wire.” The application of this principle is what powers most electronic devices.

Wire is made by drawing heavy copper or aluminum rod through a series of successfully smaller dies until the desired bare diameter is formed. The bare wire is then enameled in repeated dip/bake cycles in an enameling oven until a multi-layer coating is built up to the required thickness.

Magnet wire is used in countless applications including automobiles, appliances, toys, computers and cell phones. These products couldn’t exist without the use of magnet wire. Can you imagine what your life would be like without magnet wire?”

There you have it. No magnet wire would mean none of the great adult toys none of us seem to be able to live without. You should also know that some magnet wire was so thin that a board had to be placed behind the equipment used to make it so the wire could be seen with the human eye. And this was the early 1900s which weren’t exactly known for their “techiness”. 

The Old Fort News article “Wire Wizards” in the 1970 Vol. 33 No. 1 edition gives a more detailed description of the origins of magnet wire for those who are interested.
The Dudlo Company “made Fort Wayne the magnet capital of the world”. George A. Jacobs, its owner, was a native of Dudley, Mass. and, in 1906, a “promising figure at Sherwin Williams”. As the market for the automobile was growing, existing wire was not capable of performing the job needed to help spark and fire engine components. The wire was too thick and the veneer cracked and peeled too easily. Jacobs worked for three years and finally came up with a “liquid mixture which made obsolete the tedious process of winding fine wire with cotton fabric…..

“Development of the enamel had been an experience fraught with an element of considerable danger because the mixture was highly inflammable. The application of heat to the enamel increased the hazard; the pungent and acrid fumes which emanated from the Jacobs ovens must have brought him much opprobrium from the residential neighborhood. In their finer stages, the enamel and the oven wire developed together. In 1910 Jacobs began production of enameled fine wire in small quantities; the process then moved out of backyard confinement.”

Jacobs was the son-in-law of W.E. Mossman, who built a barn-like structure for Jacobs as an incentive for him to bring his wife, Mossman’s daughter, and move to Fort Wayne. Jacobs and his wife were living in Ohio at the time and the name of his company—Dudlo—is a combination of Dudley and Ohio. The 50 x 100 structure built on Wall Street had a cupola the full length of the building and was “one of the strangest industrial structures ever to appear in Fort Wayne”. In July, 1912, the Dudlo Company moved in and this structure became known as “the enameling building”.

Henry Ford can be praised for a lot (and denigrated for his anti-Semitism) but without the automobile, Dudlo may have never been successful. Yet Ford and Jacobs were working separately on inventions that the other did not know existed and changed the course of how Americans travel even today. Ford was designing cars. Jacobs was developing a wire that would expressly be used in automobile ignitions.

“On August 16, 1916, Purchase Order No. 73,417 of the Ford Motor Company reached the desk at the Dudlo Manufacturing Company. This one order kept Dudlo busy from September 18 until the ensuing February 28. This avalanche of business from Ford constituted a vast growth problem although it never seemed to create the slightest worry from General Manager Jacobs.”

World War I brought another addition to the use of magnet wire.

“During World War I the British government was confronted with the deadly menace of unrestricted German submarine boat warfare and consequent destruction of the shipping which supplied much of the food for the people of Britain. The fabrication of a submarine boat detector required much finer wire than had yet been manufactured. George Jacobs readily and unhesitatingly agreed to supply a ton of such wire to the British munitions board. Since this wire, smaller than a human hair, existed only in the mind of Jacobs the machinery for its previously unheard of production had first to be built. Jacobs and his co-workers at Dudlo undertook this Herculean task. The wire was accordingly produced and delivered six months after receipt of the order.”

Most of the copper that the Dudlo plant used came from Great Falls, Mont. and a smaller amount from Arizona and Chili. Copper mined in Michigan was not considered suitable for electrical use.

Dudlo went on to provide wire for the telephone industry and then moved into creating tinsel.

“Those tiny gold and silver threads had lent much charm to the Yule tree. They had for a long time found their way into some of the finest decorative fabrics. A monopoly of craftsmanship had jealously guarded the production of tinsel since the sixteenth century. The art of making tinsel had developed in the ancient city of Lyons, France. There its secret was closely guarded for many years.

The Dudlo Building in 1920
“Ultimately the Germans through research and deductive science learned the secrets of the French monopoly and produced more cheaply a fine gilded product although it did not equal the original in quality. Still the European tinsel industry continued to monopolize the market.”

The Leonic Division of Dudlo went on to produce tinsel thread for millinery braids, upholstering, lamp shades, brocades, shoe cloth, draperies and garments. They utilized pure gold and silver in the multi-step process.
Dudlo reached a peak of success by 1927. But by then the coming depression was on the horizon and so a number of major wire producers decided to merge, knowing that the economic uncertainly of the time had the potential to only get worse. The merged entities became General Cable Corporation. A new facility was constructed in Fort Wayne.

But in July 1929, Jacobs, now a General Cable vice-president, and Wendell G. Glass, plant manager of the Dudlo Division of General Cable, resigned and organized a new wire mill named INCA Manufacturing Company. In October, 1930 General Cable closed the Dudlo office facilities in Fort Wayne and moved them to the East. The name Dudlo disappeared to be replaced by Fort Wayne Plant, General Cable Corporation. Warren V. Sweet, vice-president of the Dudlo Divison, resigned.

Victor Rea, general manager of General Cable in Fort Wayne, resigned in 1933 and announced the formation of Rea Magnet Wire Company.

Operations at what had been Dudlo moved to Rome, NY that same year. The Dudlo facility was eventually acquired by the Essex Corporation, which continues to maintain a presence on that historic site.

The Dudlo Building in 1924
The influence of Dudlo lives on and this fall you can see how in the new exhibit “Allen County Innovation”.

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